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The body in the social context, according to the sociocultural groupSOUZA FILHO, Edson Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.

The study of the body in psychosocial terms has been object of important works (Boltansky, 1979; Jodelet, 1983; 1994; Jodelet & Ohana, 1982), although little attention has been granted to the sociocultural aspects related to ethnic groups in different environments and social conditions of life.
  • we suppose there is a differentiation among groups that define themselves as Whites and Blacks, and whom maintained sociocultural patterns or transformed them according to intra and extragroup dynamics (Pinto, 1998; Munanga, 1999; Carone & Bento, 2002).
In the case of Whites, they seem to suppose there exist generally valid norms that should be followed (or not) by them, constituting what it could be considered as a dominant monoculturalism. Blacks, on their turn, would tend to maintain a multicultural strategy, which consists in a more clear awareness of their own culture that is identified by them as a minority (or almost) regarding other groups (Moscovici & Perez, 1997). It also allows a soft social control that provides more space for individual creativity. Such stance can be associated with a higher assertion of their values and references, even with a breaking with the dominant groups.
The urban situation has brought closer the sociocultural groups, among them the ethnic groups, in a forced way, which has generated social representation phenomena (Moscovici, 2003; Banchs, 2000).
  • Whites tend to set up a real cult, which has got effects on the evaluation of issues such as the body. It happens as much in the sense of idealizing an external pattern that is kept by authorities and/or sociocultural references, as of exclusion of things/people, which do not fit the pattern, or are distant from it (Guillaumin, 1972).
We can say that the higher the involvement with a focus on the maintenance/transformation of the social order as a superior entity, the bigger is the negation of particular individuals/groups in terms of autonomy, one’s own space, and social differentiation.
  • we suppose that historical long term duration minority groups, such as ethnic groups, tend to maintain sharper boundaries between the public and the private spheres, both in the individual and in the group levels.
It has to be pointed out that a significant part of the issues that have been studied as social representation phenomena have been examined drawing upon an approach that gave more importance to public situations/contexts, to the detriment of private situations.
  • It seems that in Brazil White Christians’ private life is often not clearly delimited from public life. Their private life tends to be invaded by wider social patterns, such as representations/actions shared in collective and anonymous demographic groups; overvaluation of psychological family life as a superior entity above individuals among other models proposed/followed in the public life’s realm.
Thus, in Catholic countries like Brazil and other parts of Latin America small groups, communities and social movements seem to base their survival mainly in strategies of collaboration with or subordination to broad and hierarchical organizations like Churches, parties, unions, which are all under the command of White identified people where they fight to reinforce their cultural patterns.
  • Within this historical situation most active minority groups in society are instead organized around individuals, as paradoxical as it could be, and this seems to be the result of a socialization process.
Some studies in the field of family and school life in the city of Rio de Janeiro indicated that students and teachers that self-defined as Blacks adopted representations to talk about their relatives, which tended to consider them individually (a single relative each time), and trying to enhance differentiated psychological profiles.
  • On the contrary, Whites from the same public schools’ social milieu, tended to represent them in interpersonal situations and/or family power relations, similar to some patterns found by Adorno et al (1950) (Souza Filho, 2000).
The participants described as White students, when they depicted how they considered the best student would be like, tended to stress more submissiveness towards teachers and socializing with colleagues.
  • By contrast Blacks preferred to talk in terms of dedication/ study to achieve academic results (“to get good marks”).
  • Finally, Blacks mentioned more refusal of submissiveness than Whites as a characteristic of the worst student. In relation to the best/worst teacher, it can be pointed out that he was more represented by Blacks in terms o respecting or not the individual human rights (Souza Filho, 2002).
Therefore, when describing the life of teachers outside the school Whites preferred to talk about the teachers’ private life (love, children, everyday domestic habits),
  • while Blacks commented on the teacher’s public life (in terms of which football team she/he supports, the religion she/he practices, the political party voted for, among others) (Souza Filho, 2004a).
Other studies made with educators (parents and professors) showed that, regardless of social class, Whites adopted imposition of norms/rules to deal with the necessity to change the behavior of a baby from zero to six years old.
  • The exception were the Jews, whom preferred to treat children as individuals, or to give example/self-transform the educator himself/herself, while Blacks indicated friendship/distraction and emotional self-control (Souza Filho, Beldarrain-Durandegui and Scardua, 2005).
A recent study designed to compare representation/social participation of ethnic groups in terms of "I" and "We" in relation to social identities (student, religion, ethnic-racial, profession/occupation, marital status, gender, socio-economic situation), among secondary school students in Rio de Janeiro, showed that Whites and Blacks have a very different pattern regarding it (Souza Filho, Laque, Novais & Sousa, 2006).
  • Thus, White participants mentioned spontaneously their inclusion in networks/sociability when in "I" situations, together with references to norms/deviations and individual general assertion, in contrast with "We" situations, in which they used mainly collective categories, norms/deviations, psychological individual traits and majority group assertion.
  • Instead Black participants preferred to use both in "I" and "We" situations, such as social boundary demarcations, cultural minority self-assertion.
  • Participants
  • We gathered balanced samples of students from both sexes in the secondary school and university schooling levels in the city of Rio de Janeiro. They self-defined as Blacks (n=44) and Whites (n=112), according to a list of ethnic-racial self-definitions, which included Dark-skinned, and the open possibility of free self-definition. In this study we worked with Whites and Blacks
Instrument and procedure of collection
  • We elaborated a questionnaire that included questions such as describing freely one’s own body in a chosen domestic place, in the chosen school environment, in the classroom or out of the previously mentioned places. Thus, they were required to choose a place in the house where they would like to stay and to describe their own body in that milieu. Later, we repeated the same procedure for a chosen part of the school and for the classroom and out of the school, and the dwelling in a chosen place/environment. In addition, they reported adopted kinds of body-care, and data such as sex, age, schooling, providing information that was both personal and about their family, among others.
Analysis of data
  • The obtained answers were object of a thematic content analysis (Bardin, 1994) and, later, they underwent statistical and chi-square tests. It is necessary to say that the found thematic contents were frequently used in attitudinally favorable or unfavorable ways, according to opposite poles.

1) Emotion/feeling: swell, happy, to feel well.

2) Enjoy/desire: for something/somebody.

3) Extreme emotion/feeling: terrific, horrible, to adore, to hate.

4) Readiness/self-control: ready, pure adrenaline, intelligent, tired, in need of a change, active, excitement, loosing control.

5) Comfort/satisfaction: at ease, dissatisfied.

6) Pleasure.

7) To reflect/to be concerned: not to think, to ponder.

8) Concentration: attention, distraction, disconnected from the world, dispersion.

9) Expressive emotion: joy, crying, pleased.

10) Security/protection.

11) Anxiety/distress.

12) Evaluation of pros and counters.

  • 1) Touching/Being touched.

2) Dancing/playing: to sing, to let go the body.

3) Body care/physiology: health, to piss.

4) Lying down/sleeping: nap, to close the eyes.

5) Moving/stopping: head against the wall, to lie down, inert, to shake.

6) Walking/practicing sports: to walk, to swim, bodybuilding, to play soccer.

7) Body alteration: to loose weight, expending energy.

8) Attending a class: to absorb the subject, information.

9) Reading/studying: to write.

10) Observing/exploring to look at a landscape, people/everything, unknown, hidden, to feel nature, contacts with the sea.

11) Working a posture.

12) Evaluating functionally: its utility.

13) Appropriating/possessing the body: “my body”, to be grateful to the body, to posses one’s own body.

14) Wearing/to make up.

15) Feeding: diet.

16) Watching TV/games.

The body as an object:
  • Aesthetic evaluation: cold feet, paunchy, muscular, full of stretch marks, is handsome.
  • Organic function: “him”, the lung breathes, it commands my mind.
  • Weight/agility: light, flexible.
  • Rest/relax: tired, contracted, stressed.
  • Strength.
  • Movement/velocity: motionless, fast.
  • Smell/cleanliness.
  • Part of the body: eyes, beard, head, breasts.
  • Alteration of physical states: fat, thin.
  • Health/illness: allergic, headache.
  • External/internal environment: felt as part of the body, refreshing, noise, getting warm.
  • Motor function: ungainly.
  • Muscles.
  • Eroticism: desirable, sensual.
Psychosocial/ideological implications:
  • Norms/social deviance: I am being seen, normal/strange, rules do not exist, integrated, pattern, social clothes.
  • Sociophysical environment: quiet environment, dynamic class, stuffy atmosphere, hall.
  • Moral/ethic/religious values: the body that god gave me, (we are) a bit of sand.
  • Individual assertiveness: privacy, freedom, I feel I am myself, unique, me, to improve myself in general.
  • Interpersonal interaction: to meet new people, loving, treason.
  • Social identity: youth, virile, mixture of father and mother, I am a woman.
  • Socioprofessional environment: school.
  • Sociocultural environment: Hip-Hop, melodies, computing.
Table 1: Percentages of themes used to represent mental/cognitive aspects related to the body in different contexts, according to groups that self-defined as Whites and Blacks.


Dwelling Chosen place school Classroom Outside




Emotion/feeling 25,017,9 31,7 37,821,616,1 25,818,7

Enjoying/desiring 8,0 10,4 0,9 10,8 5,6 6,48,26,2

Extreme emotion/feeling 12,08,9 14,98,1 16,80 12,9 0

Readiness/self-control 15,0 26,86,5 10,8 20,0 38,725,821,8

Comfort/satisfaction 20,016,4 29,9 10,8 12,8 19,312,99,3

Pleasure 5,00 0,9 0 4,0 0 5,8 0

Reflection/concern 11,05,9 0 8,114,43,2 7,03,1

Concentration 0 1,4 13,02,7 4,8 9,60 15,6

Expressive emotion 1,0 2,9 0,9 2,7 0 3,2 0 3,1

Security/protection 2,0 0 0,9 0 0 0 0 0

Anxiety/distress 1,0 0 0 5,4 0 3,2 1,1 3,1

Evaluation pros-counters 0 8,90 2,7 0 0 0 18,7


2 (W and B in the chosen place of dwelling)= 22,477; gl=11; p<0,0209.

2 (W and B in the chosen place of school)=35,065; gl=11; p<0,0002.

2 (W and B in the classroom)= 22,9; gl=9; p<0,0064.

2 (W and B in the chosen place out of school/dwelling)= 40,027; gl=10; p<0,0000.

Table 2: Percentages of themes used to represent actions related to the body in different contexts, according to self-defined groups such as Whites and Blacks.


Dwelling Chosen place school Classroom Outside




% % % % % % % %


Touching/being touched 0 1,6 0 3,1 0 0 1,5 0

Dancing/playing 6,1 3,3 9,1 18,7 0 4,1 10,98,3

Body care/physiology 1,2 0 0 0 0 4,1 0 2,7

Going to bed/sleeping 8,6 11,8 3,0 3,1 3,1 0 4,6 0

Movement/stopping 20,9 35,529,5 6,2 46,033,3 21,8 33,3

Walking/practicing sports 8,6 5,0 20,4 18,7 6,3 4,1 23,419,4

Body alteration 2,45 5,0 0 0 0 0 0 2,7

Attending class 0 0 2,0 0 0 0 0 0

Reading/studying 1,2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Working body posture 0 0 1,0 0 0 0 0 0

Observing/exploring 18,5 1,6 6,1 15,69,54,1 0 0

Evaluating functionally 2,4 10,1 2,0 0 3,1 0 3,1 8,3

Appropriating/possessing 14,8 18,6 20,4 18,7 28,5 50,029,619,4

Wearing/make-up 2,4 0 0 0 1,5 0 3,1 2,7

Feeding 4,9 5,0 6.1 15,6 1,5 0 1,5 2,7

Watching TV/game 8,8 1,8 0 0 0 0 0 0


2 (W and B in chosen place of dwelling)= 23,568; gl=13; p< 0,0353.

2 (W and B in chosen place of school)= 17,335; gl=10; p < 0,0673.

2 (W and B in classroom)= no significant.

2 (W and B in chosen place out of dwelling/school)= no significant.

Table 3: Percentages of themes used to represent the body as an object in different contexts, according to groups that self-defined as Whites and Blacks.


Dwelling Chosen place school Classroom Outside




% % % % % % % %


Aesthetic evaluation 19,7 20,0 17,5 17,8 21,7 10,0 17,113,3

Organic function 3,7 2,0 7,0 0 5,1 10,0 7.83,3

Weight/agility 3,7 6,0 5,2 10,7 3,8 5,0 4,6 0

Rest/relax 48,1 26,0 42,1 57,1 43,5 45,0 32,8 30,0

Strength 0 6,0 1,7 0 2,5 0 3,1 6,6

Movement/velocity 4,9 0 1.7 0 5,1 0 7,8 10,0

Smell/cleanliness 1,2 2,0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Body part 6,1 22,0 1,7 7,1 2,515,0 0 3,3

Physical alteration 4,9 4,0 1,7 3,5 1,2 10,0 1,5 3,3

Health/illness 2,4 6,05,2 0 2,5 5,0 4,6 10,0

External/internal milieu 4,9 0 15,7 0 8,9 0 17,13,3

Motor function 0 2,0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Muscles 0 2,0 0 3,5 0 0 0 6,6

.6Eroticism 0 2,0 0 0 2,5 0 3,1 10,0


2 (W and B in the chosen place of dwelling)= 26,658; gl=13; p< 0,0139.

2 (W and B in the chosen place at school)= no significant.

2(W and B in classroom)= no significant.

2 (W and B in the chosen place out of dwelling/school)= no significant.

Table 4: Percentages of themes used to represent the body in terms of psychosocial/ideological implications in different contexts, according to groups that self-defined as Whites and Blacks.

Dwelling Chosen place school Classroom Outside




% % % % % %


-Norms/deviancies 14,2 11,9 7,0 13,326,0 7,6 13,07,4


environment 46,4 40,4 29,5 28,8 38,0 50,041,114,8

-Moral/religious values 1,7 2,3 4,2 0 0 0 3,9 0


assertiveness 26,7 30,9 22,5 42,2 16,0 23,023,5 44,4


interaction 8,9 7,1 29,5 11,1 18,0 0 13,7 25,9

-Social identity 0 2,3 0 0 0 0 3,9 3,7


milieu 1,7 0 4,2 0 2,0 7,6 0 0


environment 0 4,7 2,8 4,4 0 11,5 0 3,7


2X (W and B in chosen place of dwelling)= no significant.

2 (W and B in chosen place of school)= 12,897; gl=6; p<0,0447.

2 (W and B in classroom)=15,808; gl=5; p<0,0074.

4) 2 (W and B in chosen place out of dwelling and school)=11, 362; gl=6; p<0,0778.

  • In general we observed a stronger sentimental trend in relation to the body among the self-defined as Whites. It went together with a significant presence of concern with normative/deviance implications of the body experience.
  • In contrast, those that self-defined as Blacks tended to be ready/self-controlled for action, individual assertion, as well as an approach to the own body that we could depict as self-integrated. That is, Blacks’ approach considers the body in itself, in comparison with Whites, whom were more oriented to an adaptation/integration to the external social and physical environment, similar to some results found among Catholics in France (Jodelet, 1994, p.50).
As regards sentimentalism/emotionalism in relation to the body observed among Whites, they practice a nostalgic cultural survival cult of other epochs. That is, it focuses on physical/symbolic features of some groups, prolonged in religious/aesthetic stances currently threatened by other social and cultural influences (Hage, 2004).
  • In Rio de Janeiro, many White people came from Europe at the end of the XIX century in traumatic conditions and looking for a better economical life. We could suppose that from this moment on they started reinforcing among them external self-valorization, like ethnic physical traits, among others sociocultural aspects. We could say that in general they had had a quick social mobility in the city, which did not involve a cultural breaking with their rural mentality which was kept "pickled".
Nowadays these people need a kind of a “psychodrama” (Moreno, 1946/1997), in the sense that they tend to a dramatization of everyday life as an attempt to overcome normative conflicts that remain still unresolved, such as sexual liberty (Scardua & Souza Filho, 2006), and individual rights. For example, the latter element is found in Brazilian soap opera, which is daily repeated and functions more as an emotional catharsis watched from a distance, than as something thought and emotionally really lived.
It is known that African-Brazilians, before and after the slavery’s abolition, transformed their culture. Candomblé and other forms of African-Brazilian religious expressions were recreated producing an unity within the group across Brazil, in an active self-transformation process, they faced obstacles to organize their groups in a more effective way, by developing individual and cultural minority assertive formulas).
  • This is similar to what Lewin (1948) depicted as “the marginal man”, in relation to members of minority groups (especially Jews and African-Americans) in North America at the beginning of the XXth century. That is, African-Brazilians faced the necessity to study and to work in environments that were dominated by White-Christians in Brazil, by assuming a multicultural stance. In other words, they recognized part of the White culture’s values and, simultaneously they preserved and transformed their African-Brazilian sociocultural heritage.
Although many African-Brazilians have abandoned partially or totally the original religions, they maintained practices that are transmitted within their groups. Thus the above mentioned self-integrated stance among blacks in relation to the body would be mainly related to the psychology of African-Brazilian religions. These religions put much emphasis on the individual work, given that in the religious initiation/practice each one finds its own existential organization by diving in the inner self, and drawing upon a rich mythology and dynamic of the Orixás and other entities (Bastide, 1971; Augras, 1986).
  • In turn, Christian religions could be considered as oriented to the public realm, in the sense that they emphasize norms/deviance that were shaped in the commandments and other rules. Nonetheless, a hard social control is the group’s main political feature, mainly after Christians saw their religion transformed into a state religion
there are also sociocultural uniformisation trends and/or hierarchisation within the society. Nevertheless, within this general model, in Brazil and other parts of the world, only the "elite" would have the right of difference and freedom. An study inspired on Goffman's (1959/1985) self-presentation of individuals was made by us, in which some of participants self-defined as Whites.
  • The study was made with secondary school and university level student. Among the latter schooling level group we observed a higher presence of individual self-assertion contents, of insertion in groups that are smaller in size and where more autonomy can be enjoyed, and of deviance, among others.
On the contrary, secondary school White students manifested their insertion in collective categories, such as the demographic ones (Souza Filho, Beldarrain-Durandegui & Scardua, 2005). In addition, in the case of university level White students we verified significant differences; not only regarding self-presentation of individual self-assertion contents, in contrast with the lesser use of self-criticism, but also in terms of remembering their general moral and ethic positive values. The formation of personality cult and/or the ego's glorification were among the consequences.
  • Such contents can serve as a form of self-advertising to compete or, even, as a preparatory to exercise conservative authority, since they have traditionally been used in parents’ representations to justify their command/obedience (Ferreira & Souza Filho, 2004).
In this context African-Brazilian developed an ethics of individual assertiveness, which is different from the classic sociologic individualism (Weber, 1964; Farr, 1992), and tends to break the dominant believes in norms/deviance, independently of each specific African-Brazilian group´s sociocultural heritage.
It seems that in a historical moment when in many societies the main political parties practice similar politics on general economical matters, which is currently reproduced even in a global scale, the economical fight among groups within/between these countries has become an almost secondary problem.
  • For this reason, monocultural dominant politics in public spaces became a necessary way to guarantee relative advantages - sometimes rather symbolic - for the formerly exclusive culturally dominant groups and to keep some groups in a defensive/dominated position, as it happens in multicultural countries like Brazil. Therefore, many parts of the world turn out to practice increasingly a cult of Whiteness and Christianity, with implications such as reinforcing of ethnic and religious traits of no-White-Christian cultures.
On the contrary, there are some active individuals among the African-Brazilians, whom often create their strategies in a different way. Therefore, it has become commonplace to call biological and sociocultural whitening the assimilation of African-Brazilians to the dominant cultural models. Nonetheless, there is something that has been less examined; the African-Brazilian individual’s search of social autonomy, differentiation and, even, the quest to have their own space, which can be found in their representations on the body.